Gillian Edevane

Therapy Dogs Inspire Confidence Among Young Readers at Richmond Library

The Richmond library's Westside branch is experimenting with a new pet-friendly program that brings therapy dogs to kids' reading hours. 

The program gives children a chance to read aloud to friendly dogs in a one-on-one setting. It was inspired by a University of California, Davis study that found that young readers who practice oratory skills with animals have increased confidence. 

On Monday, kids lined up at 3:30 p.m. to read to two equally adorable retrievers from Tony La Russa's Animal Rescue Foundation, based out of Walnut Creek. While kids read them stories, the pups cuddled on the floor and licked the hands of their owners.

Cecelia Butt, 10, said she was anxiously waiting to learn chapter books. A Richmond native, she's been coming to the library for most of her live and was "excited" to see the dogs, she said.

Because of the program's success, librarian Deborah Bonet is looking to expand into housing communities or other branches in underserved neighborhoods.

"A dog is non-judgemental, he's not going to criticize or correct you," Bonet said. "It really feeds their confidence and makes [learning to read] a totally pleasurable experience." 

Ricky Bobby, a black retriever, came to the library with his owner Ilene Clancy on Monday. Judging from the way he kept nodding off, it appeared as if Ricky was in the mood for a bedtime story. Kids seemed to love him, though, often returning to read a second book or giving him an extra pat on the head. 

"Ricky and I go to libraries and elementary schools and senior centers, and Ricky gets read to. Children of all ages love reading to him," Clancy said. She adopted Ricky from ARF and found that he was a great fit for the program, after he was rejected from becoming a guide dog for the blind due to health issues. 

"He didn't quite make it as a guide dog, but he's perfect for us and perfect for a pet hug," Clancy said.

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